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San Francisco AIDS Foundation Opens Strut Health and Wellness Center

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The San Francisco AIDS Foundation's new integrated health and wellness center for gay men -- dubbed Strut -- opened its doors in the heart of the Castro neighborhood on January 4 after a long delay, and hosted an opening celebration and ribbon-cutting ceremony on January 5.

"We're here to encourage and support a new era of care in the HIV/AIDS world that is focused on the whole individual -- holistic health and wellness, not just sickness and disease," said outgoing SFAF CEO Neil Giuliano. "The model of care taking place at Strut will be replicated around the country and most likely around the world, just like the San Francisco model of care has been for 30 years."

City supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro and identified himself as both a neighbor and a client of Strut, recalled that he moved to the neighborhood in 1997 when protease inhibitors were a new thing and we were just starting to turn the corner on the HIV epidemic.

"For so many years it was all about playing defense against HIV and to try and survive as a community. But gradually over the past 20 years we've been turning that around so that we're on offense and in a position to defeat this epidemic," he said.

"Getting to Zero is such an important effort to visualize a new day when we no longer have any new HIV infections or HIV deaths," Wiener continued. "We're going to get there, and Strut is going to be a key part of that, because we've come to recognize that it's not just about HIV, it's about overall wellness and making sure people have access in one place to all of their health and wellness needs."

Four years in the making, the new building will house the foundation's services geared towards gay, bisexual, and trans men, including sexual health services, Stonewall Project substance use services, Positive Force for people living with HIV, the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network for men age 50 and older, the DREAAM Project for young African-American men, and the Bridgemen volunteer program.

"It's an entirely new model -- a one-stop shop," said SFAF social marketing manager Lyndal Cairns. "Even when going from one site to another there's a disconnect. We want to take that disconnect out and make it as easy as possible for people to maintain their health."

Strut's sexual health services -- which include Magnet's popular PrEP program -- opened for business in its new location on January 4. To date the program has helped more than 600 men access pre-exposure prophylaxis and figure out how to pay for it.

"When I arrived at 9:30 am yesterday there was already a line," said Steve Gibson, director of sexual health services. "About 50% of our daily clients come for PrEP, and our combination of clinical services and benefits counseling is key."

Strut's other programs, including those for gay men already diagnosed with HIV, are scheduled to move into the new building mid-month. SFAF will continue to offer additional services and see other client groups at its 1035 Market Street location.

"Having HIV is a lifelong process and people need support along the way," said Julie Lifshay, SFAF's director of health navigation services, whose focus is helping people with HIV remain in -- or get back into -- care. "We're here to help people wherever they are in their process and whatever their life needs are that keep them from focusing on their health."

The building at 470 Castro Street features14,700 square feet of space on 3 floors. Facilities include 6 medical exam rooms -- up from 2 at the old Magnet location on 18th Street -- a pharmacy, rooms for private counseling and support groups, and open spaces that will host art exhibits and other community events.

The new space will enable the foundation to expand case management services by 25%, mental health counseling by 25%, substance use and harm reduction counseling by 50%, and HIV and sexual transmitted infection screening by up to 40%, according to a SFAF press release.

The building's planned opening was pushed back several times, first due to construction delays and more recently in order to obtain approval from the city's fire department and the California Department of Public Health.

"I think I'm not alone when I say I started to think this day would never come," said SFAF director of gay men's health and wellnessTim Patriarcha. "But I'm truly excited we're open and the community is now able to experience a new approach to supporting their health. The staff and volunteers have really created something special here -- the care-focused atmosphere is unlike any other health care setting anywhere."

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